The region known as Thailand has been inhabited by humans for at least 4,000 years. Similar to
other regions in Southeast Asia, it was heavily influenced by the culture and religions of India, starting
with the Kingdom of Funan around the 1st century CE to the Khmer Empire.
After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century, various states thrived there, such as the
various Tai, Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms, as seen through the numerous archaeological sites and
artifacts that are scattered throughout the Siamese landscape. Prior to the 12th century however, the
first Thai or Siamese state is traditionally considered to be the Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai, which was
founded in 1238.
Following the decline and fall of the Khmer empire in the 13th–15th century, the Buddhist Tai kingdoms
of Sukhothai, Lanna and Lan Xang(now Laos) were on the ascension. However, a century later, the power
of Sukhothai was overshadowed by the new kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th century in
the lower Chao Phraya River or Menam area.
Ayutthaya's expansion centred along the Menam while in the northern valley the Lanna Kingdom and
other small Tai city-states ruled the area. In 1431, the Khmer abandoned Angkor after the Ayutthaya
forces invaded the city. Thailand retained a tradition of trade with its neighbouring states, from China to
India, Persia and Arab lands. Ayutthaya became one of the most vibrant trading centres in Asia. European
traders arrived in the 16th century, beginning with the Portuguese, followed by the French, Dutch and
After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 to the Burmese, King Taksin the Great moved the capital of Thailand
to Thonburi for approximately 15 years. The current Rattanakosin era of Thai history began in 1782,
following the establishment of Bangkok as capital of the Chakri dynasty under King Rama I the Great.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, "A quarter to a third of the population of some areas of Thailand
and Burma were slaves in the 17th through the 19th centuries."
Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation that has never been
colonized. This has been ascribed to the long succession of able rulers in the past four centuries who
exploited the rivalry and tension between French Indochina and the British Empire. As a result, the
country remained a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonized by the two colonizing
powers, Great Britain and France. Western influence nevertheless led to many reforms in the 19th century
and major concessions, most notably being the loss of a large territory on the east side of the Mekong to
the French and the step-by-step absorption by Britain of the Malay Peninsula.
Things to Do in Thailand
Northern Insight Meditation Centre
Thailand is a serene and thought-provoking place to do some meditation. This centre offers an intensive
month-long course and there are strict rules to be observed. The beautiful leafy setting in Chiang Mai is
ideal, but there are similar places all over the country; make enquiries at local temples.
Thailand's highest limestone mountain can be found here amidst a jungle oasis with an excellent selection
of local accommodation. A mystical warren of caves extending some 14km (8.7 miles) can be explored,
and riding a bicycle is a relaxing way to explore the area around Chiang Dao.
Chiang Mai - Old City
The temple-studded old city of Chiang Mai with its leafy residential sois, towering city gates and
crumbling walls is a highlight of the north. Exploration is best by bicycle with traffic surprisingly subdued
in the city walls and there are plenty of places to stop for refreshment when escaping the heat of the day.
Escape to the cooling heights of Thailand's highest peak, where jungle walks, bird watching and simply
shaking the heat of the simmering plains from your back awaits. There are good roads in the park making
it easy to get around and waterfalls to splash about in.
Elephant Nature Park
Visiting an elephant sanctuary can be a wonderful experience especially if you stick to those, like this
nature park, which genuinely care for the animals instead of just making them do ridiculous antics.
Visitors can help wash and care for the elephants here and no riding is allowed.
JEATH War Museum
The moving JEATH War Museum (JEATH representing the first letter of Japan, England, America,
Australia, Thailand and Holland, the countries who lost soldiers in the region) is located in the provincial
capital, Kanchanaburi and features photographs and various other memorabilia from World War II.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
One of northern Thailand's most sacred temples, Wat Suthep is perched high in the mountains overlooking
the steamy metropolis of Chiang Mai below. As well as offering astounding views the temple, established
in the 14th century, has a wonderful collection on Lanna Art and architecture.
Bangkok's Siam Ocean World
Dive with the sharks in the aquarium at Bangkok's Siam Ocean World (www.siamoceanworld.co.th), and
live to tell the tale. There's a daily feeding of sharks and penguins and the deep reef zone is a fascinating
glimpse into a magical underwater world.
Bridge Over The River Kwai
Internationally famous due to the 1957 film The Bridge Over the River Kwai, it was constructed as part of
the Japanese Siam-Burma 'Death' Railway during World War II. An estimated 16,000 Allied prisoners of
war died, forced to endure back-breaking work under terrible conditions to complete the railway, and
large numbers of troops perished during bombing raids on the iron structure by the Allies in 1945.
Calypso Cabaret, Bangkok
Be entertained by the infamous 'lady boys' or katoeys of Bangkok at the outrageous Calypso Cabaret at
the Asia Hotel (www.calypsocabaret.com). The costuming and antics of the various participants are
equally outrageous and this is one of the capital's great experiences.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Located 80km (50 miles) southwest of Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a daily riot of
colour and noise. Farmers and smallholders from the surrounding hills turn up each morning to sell and
exchange fruit and vegetables from their heavily-laden barges, as they sail up and down the canals
amongst the orchards and vineyards. Trading starts early, at around 0600 and lasts only until 1100, with
the main clients being other farmers and the residents of the stilt-houses that line the canals. Visitors can
also take boat trips to see the way of life in the many villages up river.
Grand Palace, Bangkok
Marvel at Bangkok's glittering Grand Palace (www.palaces.thai.net/gp) and Wat Phra Kaeo - a temple
complex housing the Emerald Buddha. Upriver are the Royal Barges (www.thailandmuseum.com), ornate
barges used for special processions on the Chao Phraya river.
Admire the skills of the kite fighters. Opposing teams fly male Chula and female Pakpao kites in a
surrogate battle of the sexes.
Learn traditional massage
Learn traditional massage and the healing properties of herbal medicine at ancient Wat Pho
(www.watpho.com), ‘Temple of the Reclining Buddha’. Tourists must be in polite dress, shorts are not
Oriental Hotel, Bangkok
Have afternoon tea at the Oriental Hotel (www.mandarinoriental.com) in Bangkok, one of the most
famous hotels in the world. Once the haunt of the likes of Somerset Maughan and Joseph Conrad, it is
now frequented by royalty and celebrities.
Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Bay is one of the world's great scenic wonders. It covers an area of 400 sq km (154 sq miles)
and consists of verdant limestone islands, some of which reach 300m (984ft) high. The area is famous for
its caves and aquatic grottoes. Apart from the occasional village, few of the islands are densely populated.
The most famous of the islands in the bay are Ko Ping Kan (more commonly known as James Bond
Island) and Koh Pannyi. The former featured in the James Bond movie 'The Man with the Golden Gun',
whilst the latter, which literally means 'Sea Gypsy Island', is a village built out over the water on stilts,
guarded by a giant rock monolith. The area suffered badly during the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, but
has recovered well.
Siam Nirami, Bangkok
Be wowed by the spectacular cultural production of a Journey to the Enchanted Kingdom of Thailand with
hundreds of performers and special effects at Siam Niramit in central Bangkok (www.siamniramit.com).
Join a wine-tasting tour at the Siam Winery near Bangkok (www.siamwinery.com).
Take a meditation class
Cast off all cares through traditional meditation. Thailand has dozens of temples and meditation centres
specialising in vipassana (insight) meditation. Attend a class for just one day or a retreat lasting several
weeks. Get to know northern Thailand better, particularly the remote provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang
Rai and Mae Hong Son by trekking, riding an elephant or rafting through this spectacular region.
Try Thai cooking at one of many cookery schools. Learn how to blend the many herbs and spices that
provide the unique flavours of Thai food.
Thai kick-boxing match
Take in a muay thai (Thai kick-boxing) match; this traditional sport can be seen every day of the year at
the major stadiums in both Bangkok and the provinces. Thai boxing matches are preceded by elaborate
ceremonies and accompanied by lively music.